Chavez v. McFadden, No. 437PA18

Docket NºNo. 437PA18
Citation843 S.E.2d 139, 374 N.C. 458
Case DateJune 05, 2020
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Carolina

374 N.C. 458
843 S.E.2d 139

Carlos CHAVEZ and Luis Lopez, Petitioners,
Gary MCFADDEN, Sheriff, Mecklenburg County, Respondent.

No. 437PA18

Supreme Court of North Carolina.

Filed June 5, 2020

Goodman Carr, PLLC, by Rob Heroy, Charlotte, and Sejal Zota, for petitioners-appellants

Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP, Charlotte, by Sean F. Perrin, for respondent-appellee

Deborah M. Weissman, Chapel Hill, for Law Scholars and National Immigrant Justice Center, amici curiae

Raul A. Pinto, for North Carolina Justice Center, amicus curiae

Irena Como, Katrina Braun, Omar Jadwat, Cody Wofsy, Daniel Galindo, and Spencer Amdur, for American Civil Liberties Union Foundation (ACLU) and ACLU of North Carolina, et al., amici curiae

Joshua S. Press and Gill P. Beck, for United States Department of Justice, amicus curiae

ERVIN, Justice.

374 N.C. 460

The question before us in this case is whether state judicial officials acting in counties in which the Sheriff has entered into a 287(g) agreement with the federal government have the authority to grant applications for the issuance of writs of habeas corpus for and to order the release of individuals held pursuant to immigration-related arrest warrants and detainers. After a thorough review of the record, briefs, and arguments made by the parties, we conclude that the trial court erred by ordering the release of petitioners Carlos Chavez and Luis Lopez because the record establishes that petitioners were held under a claim of federal authority that the trial court was required to respect. In light of that and other determinations, we modify and affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals, in part; reverse that decision, in part; vacate that decision, in part; and remand this case to the Court of Appeals with instructions that this case be remanded to the Superior Court, Mecklenburg County, with instructions to deny petitioners’ requests for the issuance of writs of habeas corpus and to be discharged from custody.

On 28 February 2017, then-Sheriff of Mecklenburg County, Irwin Carmichael, entered into a written agreement with the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an entity housed within the Department of Homeland Security, pursuant to § 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, codified at 8 U.S.C. § 1357(g) (1996), as amended by the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Public Law 107-296. In accordance with the provisions of this agreement, certified Mecklenburg County deputies, subject to the direction and supervision of the Attorney General of the United States, were authorized to perform specific immigration enforcement functions, including, among others,

374 N.C. 461

the investigation, apprehension, and detention of undocumented aliens "to the extent consistent with State and local law." 8 U.S.C. § 1357(g)(1)–(3), (5) (2018).

On 5 June 2017, petitioner Lopez was being held in pretrial detention in the Mecklenburg County Jail based upon common law robbery, conspiracy, resisting a public officer, and misdemeanor breaking or entering charges. On 5 July 2017, the District Attorney's office voluntarily dismissed the common law robbery, conspiracy, and resisting a

843 S.E.2d 143

public officer charges on the grounds of insufficient evidence. At that point, petitioner Lopez remained subject to a $400.00 secured bond in connection with the misdemeanor breaking or entering charge, which was the only charge that was still pending against him. On 13 August 2017, petitioner Chavez was arrested and placed in pretrial detention in the Mecklenburg County Jail subject to a $100.00 cash bond for driving while impaired, driving without an operator's license, interfering with emergency communications, and assault on a female. At approximately 9:00 a.m. on 13 October 2017, both petitioners became eligible for release when petitioner Lopez's $400.00 bond was modified from a secured to an unsecured bond and someone posted petitioner Chavez's $100.00 bond. Even so, the Sheriff continued to hold both petitioners in the Mecklenburg County Jail pursuant to immigration-related arrest warrants and detainers.1

On the morning of 13 October 2017, an investigator employed by the Public Defender's Office sent an e-mail to the Sheriff's General Counsel bearing the subject line "Heads up-Important" for the purpose of informing the General Counsel that emergency writs of habeas corpus relating to petitioners would be submitted later that day. At 9:12 a.m., both petitioners filed petitions seeking the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus based upon assertions that their continued detention in the Mecklenburg County Jail was unlawful because: (1) "the detainer[s] lack[ed] probable cause, [were] not [ ] warrant[s], and ha[d] not been reviewed by a judicial official" in violation of the Fourth Amendment to

374 N.C. 462

the United States Constitution; (2) the Sheriff "lack[ed] authority under North Carolina General Statutes to continue to detain [p]etitioner[s] after all warrants and sentences ha[d] been served"; and (3) the Sheriff's "honoring of ICE's request[s] for detention violate[d] the anti-commandeering principles of the Tenth Amendment."

At 9:30 a.m., the General Counsel forwarded the investigator's e-mail to Sheriff Carmichael; Sean Perrin, the Sheriff's outside legal counsel; Donald Belk, a captain serving in the Mecklenburg County Jail; and eight other individuals in which the General Counsel stated that "I do not acknowledge receipt of [the investigator's] emails on this topic." At 9:37 a.m., Captain Belk responded to the General Counsel's e-mail by indicating that the office of the Clerk of Superior Court of Mecklenburg County had advised him that the cases "are on in [Courtroom] 5350 this morning," that petitioner Lopez remained in the Sheriff's custody, and that, since petitioner Chavez had already been turned over to ICE, he "should not go to court."

On the same morning, the trial court issued writs of habeas corpus ordering that petitioners be "immediately brought before a judge ... to determine the legality of [their] confinement" and requiring the Sheriff to "immediately appear and file a return." Following the issuance of the trial court's order, the investigator attempted to serve it at the Sheriff's office. After the front desk employee at the Sheriff's Office refused to accept service, the investigator left the trial court's orders at the front desk. In addition, the investigator served copies of the trial court's orders upon the personnel working at Mecklenburg County jail, the Sheriff's outside legal counsel, the office of ICE's Chief Counsel, and an assistant district attorney.

At 11:57 a.m., a further hearing was held before the trial court at which the Sheriff did not appear, either in person or through counsel. In addition, the Sheriff did not file a return or produce either petitioner before the trial court. At 12:08 p.m., the trial court entered orders finding that both petitioners

843 S.E.2d 144

were being unlawfully detained and ordering that they be discharged from the Sheriff's custody.

At 2:58 p.m., the Sheriff filed written returns relating to both petitioners. The return filed with respect to petitioner Chavez stated that, while he was being held in "exclusive" federal custody, he was physically incarcerated in the Mecklenburg County Jail. The return filed with respect to petitioner Lopez stated that, "[a]t the time of the [p]etitioner's filing," he was being held in state custody and detained in the Mecklenburg County Jail pursuant to a $400.00 secured bond for

374 N.C. 463

misdemeanor breaking or entering and an arrest warrant and detainer that had been issued by DHS. The Sheriff declined to release either petitioner and eventually delivered them to ICE custody.

On 6 November 2017, the Sheriff filed petitions seeking the issuance of writs of certiorari with the Court of Appeals authorizing review of the trial court's orders and the issuance of a writ of prohibition to preclude the trial court from ruling upon any further habeas corpus petitions relating to the lawfulness of the continued detention of persons subject to immigration-related detainers or arrest warrants. On 22 December 2017, the Court of Appeals entered an order allowing the Sheriff's certiorari petitions and prohibiting "the trial court ... from issuing a writ of habeas corpus ordering the release of a person detained by the Sheriff" pursuant to a 287(g) agreement and "from entering any orders or sanctions limiting the authority of the Sheriff and his officers or agents, or any officer or agent of the United States, from carrying out the acts permitt[ed] by the agreement."

In seeking relief from the trial court's orders before the Court of Appeals, the Sheriff argued that the trial court lacked "jurisdiction to rule on federal immigration matters." In addition, the Sheriff contended that the trial court had erred by ordering that petitioners be released "because [they] were being exclusively detained on United States Department of Homeland Security detainers and administrative warrants." In...

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